(This post contains affiliate links. Learn more.)
Peppermint is one of the most popular mint flavors today. It not only does it have a great flavor and scent but it also has medicinal uses.
Peppermint is actually a naturally occurring hybrid of watermint and spearmint! It has been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians but wasn’t cultivated in Europe until the 17th century.
The genus Mentha is named after the Greek nymph, Minthe. Minthe fell in love with Hades, the god of the underworld, and they started an affair. Hades’ wife, Persephone, found out about the affair and decided to take revenge against Minthe. There are a few endings to this story. Out of anger and jealousy, Persephone murdered Minthe and Hades brought her back in the form of a mint plant. Another ending says that Persephone tried stomping on Minthe with all her might and instead of killing her, she actually turned her into a mint plant. Either way, in the end, the nymph Minthe was turned into a mint plant.
Peppermint was found in Egyptian pyramids dating all the way back to 1000 b.c. and it’s possible that they cultivated this plant to use in medicine and food. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, recorded the use of peppermint in the time of the Ancient Greeks in Romans. Aristotle mentioned its use as an aphrodisiac and Alexander the Great did not allow his soldiers to consume peppermint for the fear that it would promote erotic thoughts and keep them from wanting to fight. Peppermint has also been mentioned in 13th century Icelandic medical documents.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Peppermint has been used for centuries to treat stomach and intestinal problems. Today, it is approved by the German Commission E. as a treatment for indigestion. Quite a few studies have shown that enteric-coated capsules may improve IBS symptoms. One study found that peppermint is an antispasmodic that can help treat IBS and another concluded that peppermint could help treat abdominal pain in patients with diarrhea due to IBS. It’s a possibility that peppermint could also help with Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, liver and gallbladder complaints, loss of appetite, spastic colon, diarrhea, gas, bloating, colic, cramps, and heartburn.
There have been a few studies done on peppermint’s uses for minor headaches. There is some evidence that it can help relieve headaches. One study was done in Germany in 1996 that found that peppermint oil was as effective in relieving headache pain as 1,000 mg of acetaminophen.
Colds and Flu
Peppermint contains menthol, an effective decongestant and expectorant, which can help thin mucus, loosen phlegm, and break up coughs. Through aromatherapy, peppermint oil can be inhaled as a vapor which will help soothe coughs experienced during colds and flu.
Because of its menthol contents, when diluted peppermint oil can help soothe skin irritations such as itchiness and redness. It could also potentially help with rashes, dry skin, dry and oily scalp, and allergic rashes. Since menthol creates a cooling sensation, it can help reduce muscle pain.
Peppermint has been found to be an antimicrobial and possible anti-fungal, as well as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. This means it could potentially aid in treating bacterial infections, fungal infections, cancer, heart disease, bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. It can also act as a natural additive to extend the shelf life of products.
Since peppermint can act as a muscle relaxant, it can help aid in menstrual pain. The cooling sensation caused by the menthol in peppermint leaves can help soothe stomach pain and possibly nausea. It has been used to treat sea sickness and nausea associated with pregnancy but there are not many studies that show that peppermint can help with nausea. However, peppermint can potential cause menstruation so it is not recommended for those who are pregnant or breast feeding.
Common Name: Peppermint
Scientific Name: Mentha piperita
Leaves- opposite, fragrant, lance shaped, toothed
Stem- purplish, smooth with occasional hairs,
Flower- pale violet, interrupted terminal spikes
Height- 1-2 feet
Spread- 1-2 feet
Harvest Time: July-October
Parts Edible: Leaves
Found: Native to Europe; grows throughout Europe, North America, and Aisa; likes rich, moist soils and full sun to partial shade
-It has traditionally been used to treat stomach ailments, cholera, diarrhea, colds, flu, hysteria and nervous disorders, and tension headaches
-In the 18th century, peppermint was a popular remedy in Europe for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, respiratory infections, menstrual problems, and stomach ailments
-The ancient Romans and Greeks used peppermint to not only soothe their stomachs but believed it could clear the voice and cure hiccups
-Peppermint was very important to the both the Romans and Greeks as they would use the plant to decorate themselves and their tables during festivals and feasts
-It has a long history of being used as scents in perfumes, flavorings in food, and used to repel insects and rats
Vitamins, Minerals, & More
Vitamins & Minerals:
-Vitamins A & C
Chemical Compounds Found in Peppermint’s Natural Oils:
-menthol 40%-80% (this is what gives mint it’s cool sensation)
-menthyl acetate (gives it it’s minty flavor and aroma)
-Dried leaves are used in tea
-Fresh or dried leaves are used to make extracts for flavoring
-Fresh or dried leaves can be used in tinctures
-Peppermint essential oil is very popular to use in aromatherapy
-Peppermint oil can be found in capsules. Some may or may not be enteric-coated
-The oil is sometimes added to food and is used in lotions, creams, and salves
-Do not use peppermint leaves or oil while pregnant or breastfeeding
-Do not apply peppermint oil to the face of infants and small children
-Do not use peppermint oil internally with children under the age of 8
-Peppermint can cause allergic reactions including flushing, headaches, and mouth sores
-Do not take any form of peppermint if you have a history of gallstones, heartburn, hiatal hernia, severe liver damage, or bile duct obstruction
-Do not ingest pure peppermint oil as it can be toxic in large doses
-Do not drink peppermint tea on a regular basis
-Peppermint could interact with immunosuppressive drugs, dedications changed by the liver, antacids, and medications that decrease stomach acid
Havest peppermint shortly before the plant begins to flower. For the highest content of its essential oils, harvest in the morning before noon.
Where to Purchase
Practicing Sustainable Wild Harvesting
- Only harvest plants you know are safe and can identify
- Only harvest plants in safe areas that are not contaminated or polluted
- Do not harvest on private property without permission
- Harvest no more than 10% or use the method: take 1 leave 2
- Know how to handle and prepare the plants you are harvesting
- Always check the legal status of the plant you want to harvest (is it endangered?)
–Missouri Botanical Garden Peppermint
–Peppermint: Health benefits and precautions
–NIH Peppermint Oil
–Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine Peppermint
–Penn State Peppermint
–University of Maryland Medical Center Peppermint
–Plants for a Future White Peppermint
–Web MD Peppermint
–American Botanical Council Peppermint
-Foster, Steven, and James Duke A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs: Of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 252. Print.
-Balch, Phyllis A., and Stacey J. Bell. “The Herbs.” Prescription for Herbal Healing, 2nd ed., Bottom Line Books, 2014, pp. 112–114.